Victory in Vista Privacy Rights Case

A Superior Court judge today barred the city of Vista from releasing the identities, addresses and phone numbers of private individuals who registered with the city under an ordinance requiring employers of day laborers to obtain a city permit.

[For background on the case, see our earlier posting.]

Judge Michael Orfield granted the preliminary injunction sought by the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, agreeing with the argument that privacy rights outweighed the weak public interest in disclosure of the information.

The judge said he carefully balanced the constitutional rights of privacy and the public’s right to know as he listened to each side’s arguments.

“While we often agree with the press on public disclosure issues, we believe the balance tilts in favor of privacy in this case,” said ACLU Legal Director, David Blair-Loy.

The ACLU contended that public disclosure laws exist to enable the public to investigate and evaluate the performance of the government, not private people who receive no money or favors from the government.

The judge agreed. In his ruling he said that the information that would be disclosed has little to do with how the city of Vista is enforcing the ordinance. He said that he public interest level in this case was quantitatively less than any other public interest case he had overseen.

The ACLU stressed that its position is narrowly tailored. “We don’t oppose disclosure of business information,” said Blair-Loy, “because businesses do not have the same privacy rights as individuals.” He said that the ACLU also did not oppose disclosure of those cited for violations of the ordinance, because this information is relevant to ensuring that enforcement is even-handed.

Blair-Loy added that the ACLU believes that the forced registration scheme was unnecessary in the first place. “We continue to oppose the handing over of personal information about private individuals when it serves no public interest,” he said.

A number of news organizations, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, the North County Times, and the Los Angeles Times had sought to allow the city of Vista to release the names and contact information for registered employers. The case arose when a member of an anti-illegal immigration group filed a public record request in June.

The city of Vista took no position on the legal dispute, and said it would comply with the judge’s order.